Huntington native John Billheimer is an instructor at Stanford University and an expert on transportation safety. His first novel, “The Contrary Blues,” marked the debut of transportation investigator Owen Allison, who is sent to a small town in West Virginia to probe allegations of corruption and the mysterious death of his predecessor.
To me, coming home to West Virginia means … reuniting with the people and places that had a hand in forming you and remember you when you were still ill-formed. People who ask, “Are you still playing ball?” when you’re well past 50 and your first baseman’s mitt has flakes of dried leather peeling off of it.
My favorite West Virginia reunion memory is … my mother, who kept her political convictions and personal history to herself (“a matter of confession”) finally sharing her courtship memories with her children long after our father died. Shortly after she met Dad, she asked a favorite aunt if there was any hope for a relationship, and the aunt replied, “Don’t worry, Mil. If the bone is yours, no other dog will drag it away.” That saying has since been incorporated in a makeshift family crest.
West Virginia’s best-kept secret is … The strength, vitality and variety of the state’s literature.
Even when I’m away from West Virginia, I feel its influence in my work or life … Reminding me that I’m related to a tribe of resourceful, independent people who ought to be able to accomplish anything they set out to do, including filling that blank page with meaningful words.
Of my books, “Dismal Mountain” is an ideal homesickness remedy because it reflects the humor, independence and resourcefulness of the natives, as well as the threat posed to the state by outsiders who would strip its natural beauty indiscriminately.